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There is Hope Part III: Immunotherapy for Dogs with Cancer

This article was written by Mari Maeda, the founder and director of Canine Cancer Alliance, a nonprofit organization in Bellevue, Washington, supporting research for dog cancer cures.

Today’s treatments for dogs with cancer primarily rely on surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. These conventional therapies might put cancer into remission, but for most dogs, they do not produce a cure.

This was true for our two family dogs.

golden retriever with radiation therapy scar on face

Our first dog, Kinako, was diagnosed with soft tissue sarcoma in her face when she was eight years old. With the help of surgery and radiation therapy, we got an extra 18 months of quality time. But then the tumor began growing again, and we were told that there were no more options for treatment.

light colord golden retriever who was treated for osteosarcoma with immunotherapy
Ranger. Three years ago Ranger was diagnosed with osteosarcoma which ended up spreading to his lungs. But with the help from EGFR/HER2 vaccine he became cancer-free

Our second pup, Gus, was also around eight years old when we noticed him limping due to pain in his front leg. X-ray imaging revealed that he had bone cancer (or osteosarcoma). After leg amputation surgery and multiple weeks of chemotherapy, the cancer seemed to stop growing. But like most dogs with osteosarcoma, the cancer reappeared and spread to his lungs.

There are now several new cancer treatments for pets that are safer and more effective.They are based on cancer immunotherapy, which works by helping a dog’s own immune system fight cancer.

Three benefits of cancer immunotherapy for pets are:

  • There is a chance that the dog will stay in remission much longer than they might have with conventional therapies.

  • It may serve as an alternative to surgery and chemotherapy.

  • An immunotherapy patient may experience little or no side effects.

Some immunotherapy treatments are still experimental, and canine patients may have to enroll in a clinical trial. But other immunotherapy treatments are available to pets anywhere in the US.

Here are three examples of cancer immunotherapy treatments for dogs, all available in the Seattle area:

  1. EGFR/HER2 Canine Cancer Vaccine: This therapeutic vaccine works by aiding the immune system to kill aggressive cancer cells by helping it recognize the EGFR/HER2 receptor proteins found in over-abundance on the surface of tumor cells. Dogs are given two shots of the vaccine, three weeks apart. This treatment option is very promising because it can help prevent metastasis in dogs with osteosarcoma, something that conventional therapies cannot do. This vaccine was developed at Yale University School of Medicine, and you can read more about it here. Like all immunotherapy treatments, it doesn’t help every dog, but several dogs who had lung metastases became cancer-free. The Seattle-area clinic that’s participating in the study is Bridge Animal Referral Clinic in Edmonds, Washington. If your dog has been diagnosed with osteosarcoma or hemangiosarcoma, please find out more about this vaccine.

  2. Immunocidin: Immunocidin is another immune-activating drug; it is made by a Canadian company called Novavive. It can be injected directly into a tumor to stimulate immune activity, or given as an infusion. It has been in use to treat dogs with mammary tumors, especially if the tumors cannot be surgically removed or to decrease the chance of recurrence. In several studies, Immunocidin is starting to be evaluated for its efficacy against other cancer types such as bladder cancer (also known as Transitional Cell Carcinoma), osteosarcoma, soft tissue carcinoma, and anal sac adenocarcinoma. Because Immunocidin was already approved for use by veterinarians by the USDA, it can be ordered by a vet anywhere in North America.

  3. Torigen’s VetiVax Vaccine: Torigen, a small company in Connecticut, creates a dog-specific vaccine using a portion of the tumor that has been surgically removed from the patient. This vaccine is shipped back to the vet and the canine patient receives three injections, one week apart. It’s important to note that the vet will need to coordinate with their lab prior to surgery to make sure a sample is preserved and shipped to them in a timely manner. It is possible to try Torigen’s immunotherapy anywhere in the US.

While immunotherapy can help some dogs live much longer than they might have with conventional cancer treatments, it is not the answer for every patient. That’s why scientists and veterinarians are pursuing research investigating ways to improve and enhance immunotherapy so that more dogs can become cancer-free.

To learn more about cancer immunotherapy for dogs and research studies to help dogs, please visit Canine Cancer Alliance’s website:, or follow them on Facebook or Instagram @caninecanceralliance.

Article by Mari Maeda

Edited by K. Sims

Photos provided by Mari Maeda

December 2022




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